I probably first became aware of R.E.M. in 2003. "Man on the Moon" was still in VH1 rotation, and "Losing My Religion" was still on the radio a lot. <i>Out of Time</i> was the first R.E.M. album I had ever bought, and I sought out <i>Automatic for the People</i> soon after that.
Today, R.E.M. broke up.
I'm 30, so 18+ years of my life have been tied up in this band. They're the first band I truly loved, the first band I made a point to buy albums for on the release date (I begged my father to pick up <i>New Adventures in Hi-Fi</i> for me on his way home from a double shift that night), the first band I missed things for in order to pick up music (I skipped out of band rehearsal to grab <i>Up</i>), the first band I ever traveled long distances to see (among other things, seeing R.E.M. was the centerpiece of my first visit to Chicago).
I think a lot of people assumed the band would have broken up when Bill Berry, their drummer, left. For a lot of people I know through my R.E.M. fandom, they may as well have broken up in 1999, or 2001, or 2004, or 2005. I've kept up with them, though, and the last few albums they put out were genuinely great - maybe the band didn't feel the same way? I don't know.
Either way, it's hard for me not to be a little, or maybe a lot, sad about it. R.E.M. was my first real thing I was a fan of. I bought all the albums, most of the singles, the books, saw them live 6 times, sought out side projects...heck, I've lost count of the bands and books and movies that I've consumed simply because a member of R.E.M. recommended them, or because they were namechecked in a song, or simply because there was a degree of separation. A lot of who I am is very much tied up in growing up with R.E.M. in my life. Maybe that says something negative about me, but I don't see it as a flaw, but rather a companion piece to myself.
As a fan, I'm upset about the fact that we won't get much, if any, new stuff. That I won't be able to see them live again. But maybe now the vaults will really open up, and a lot of that old unreleased stuff will see the light of day. Maybe we'll get that Mike Mills solo album the fans have secretly wanted for decades. If there's one thing R.E.M. did forever, it was keeping us guessing, and I doubt we'll truly know what's coming next, either.
So here's to my favorite band ever. May future generations appreciate them as much as I have over the years.